One more on "Ear" of corn etymology

William F. Tracy wftracy at
Fri May 17 10:19:39 EST 2002

Following is my response to the fifth graders and all others interested in
the origin (word) of the maize ear


The origins of words can be a lot of fun and teach us a lot about human
history and language development. Have the students check out the etymology
(word history) of ear in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (tenth
edition). Hint: the origin of the word for human ears is different from
that of corn ears.

If it still doesn't make sense email me.

Have fun!

Bill Tracy

At 03:48 PM 5/17/2002 +0100, you wrote:
>That was a good answer, Leszek, but I think the question was "Why is the
>word 'ear' used for this type of inflorescence?"  (as opposed to eye or
>nose or throat, for example).  I confess I do not know the answer to that
>question but I do know why the word "corn" is applied to the kernels.
>"Corn" used to be descriptive of size (and probably of shape too);
>anything the size of a grain of wheat was corn-sized, which is why
>wheat is also called "corn" (in the UK).  I deduce that the Indian maize
>being described as "corn" by the early Europeans was a tad smaller in
>the kernel than modern maize.  Anyway, this older meaning of the word
>"corn" can still be seen in e.g. the name "corned beef";  "corn" here
>describes the size of the salt crystals used in the curing -- neither
>maize nor wheat have anything to do with it!

William F. Tracy
Department of Agronomy
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Madison
457 Moore Hall
1575 Linden Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 262-2587
FAX (608) 262-5217

And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in
ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green sweet corn
boiled, with the addition of salt.
			Henry David Thoreau,  Walden

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